CAPTAIN Andrew Strauss insists he is the right man to return England to the top of the Test rankings after their stirring attempt to keep that title out of South African clutches ended in defeat at Lord’s yesterday.
A 51-run loss confirmed a 2-0 series reverse, a first at home since 2008, and came despite the heroic efforts of England’s lower middle order to snatch victory from what had long seemed certain defeat.
Matt Prior top scored with a swashbuckling 73 as he and Graeme Swann, who made 41 off 34 balls, added 60 in eight overs after tea, while Jonny Bairstow (54) and Stuart Broad (37) also kept faint comeback hopes alive.
Prior’s wicket, a fifth for Vernon Philander, spelled the end for England in a match overshadowed by the omission of batsman Kevin Pietersen, but Strauss believes he can lead them back to No1 spot again.
“I hope so,” he said, when asked if he was the man for th job. “We’ve had some tough times and I think that’s a good thing – Test cricket tests out your character, resilience and all that kind of stuff. When you’re No1 people try to gun you down and we’ve come unstuck a few times, we’ve learned a lot along the way, it’s a shame to hand over that mace to South Africa but right at the moment they deserve to be No1 and we’ll come back.”
Strauss reserved special praise for Bairstow, who was drafted in as Pietersen’s replacement following his axing for sending text messages to South Africa players.
“He played outstandingly well,” Strauss added. “He came into the game under quite a lot of pressure, given the circumstances, and the calm method and great ball-striking he displayed really bode well.”
Philander’s removal of Strauss and fellow opener Alastair Cook on Sunday evening had left England on 6-2 and with risible prospects of even saving a draw on the final day.
Jonathan Trott’s steady 63 saw the hosts through the early losses of Ian Bell and then James Taylor, before Prior and Swann got Lord’s roaring. But Philander claimed Prior and then Steven Finn in consecutive balls to snuff out the challenge and end England’s year at the top.